As each year draws to a close, I encourage organizations to look back over the past months and make a list of their accomplishments.
This year, of course, is very different — presenting so many unique challenges. No doubt you will have a very long list of accomplishments as you pivoted in so many directions just to keep delivering your mission.
It may be tempting to refrain from planning for the future after this past roller-coaster year. But rather than deciding that planning might be a waste of time, let’s look at how we can view the past differently so we can bring a greater degree of certainty to our future.
Most nonprofit organizations are so focused on projects lying ahead that they forget to reflect on their successes.
Yet, acknowledging triumphs can energize the team to surge ahead in the new year with renewed vigor. I’m not suggesting a formal strategic plan, although that is always critical to long-term success. I’m just proposing a simple reflective process — the secret to replenishing your momentum.
Gather Your Team
Don’t do this alone. Others on your team will benefit from this vital process, too. Invite board members, staff members and volunteers to a special Zoom call. A cross section of stakeholders always produces a wider scope of ideas and builds a more cohesive team.
Start by asking each person to describe what draws him or her to the organization’s mission — a powerful way of helping team members get in touch with their deep commitment to your mission. Try using Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” approach to get folks connected to their inner passion for their involvement in your mission.
Review the Year
Ask everyone to brainstorm a list of all of the organization’s accomplishments during the past year — big ones and little ones. Remember the main rule of brainstorming: There are no bad ideas. Let occasional silence encourage timid ones to speak up.
Did some of your pivots result in positive outcomes? Put it on the list. You may be surprised at the long list you create. Now write down all of the lessons learned. What would you have done differently? What has this past year taught you? These points of learning will bring benefit to your organization in the coming year.
Here are some examples of accomplishments some nonprofit organizations will be adding to their lists:
» Santa Barbara Zoo: Offered a virtual tour of the zoo while it was closed
» Foodbank of Santa Barbara County: Created new ways of serving the community at 50 sites; restaurants are making meals that the Foodbank delivers to individuals
» Wilderness Youth Project: Offered playful and interactive group calls for children of all ages
» Alpha Resource Center: Created a virtual bulletin board as a great resource of information for families navigating these challenging times
» Mental Wellness Center: Operated a virtual program providing many support group opportunities and community resources
Now it’s time to celebrate your successes. Don’t forget that lessons learned are successes, too. Make your official “celebration list.” Find innovative ways to gather your team to applaud and honor all of your wins this past year.
Set Your Intentions
I like the word intentions better than plans, especially for this coming year, because we want to allow ourselves some leeway as we prepare for next year with fewer knowns than we would like. There are so many things we don’t know and can’t anticipate. But that doesn’t have to paralyze us. We can combine what we have learned and what we think we know and take our best guess about future direction. At least we will be moving forward.
An article in this week’s Wall Street Journal gives some excellent advice on making your budget for 2021: “Expect the unexpected.”
Pretty obvious advice, but it goes on to suggest that organizations not budget for the whole year because “a year from now is really like 20 years from now since time isn’t normal right now.”
Consider making a micro budget by planning on a much smaller scale and timeframe. This approach has several key advantages: “You’re able to better monitor your cash flow, pivot plans with greater ease and reclaim some of the fresh start energy as the new year arrives.”
The idea of a fresh start empowers our intention-setting and helps us stick to our goals. “This year is hard because we’ve missed out on the fresh starts that normally rejuvenate us.” A shorter-term budget automatically gives you several smaller opportunities to reclaim that fresh-start effect.
La Piana Consulting advises nonprofit organizations to try non-linear approaches to planning as they begin to create their new normal. Consider possible changes in client needs, behaviors and the operating environment over the next six months and how your organization could respond. Set short-term financial and impact goals, along with plans for what you’ll do if you don’t meet them.
Focus on the Basics
With so many limits on what we can do in this moment, this is the perfect time to rearticulate your vision, create your checklist, and commit to making real progress during this crisis and after it. Find comfort in the basics. Remember: You know what your supporters respond to, you know why your cause matters, and you know how to do good. Don’t let logistics, tech or lack of information get in the way of applying that knowledge and experience.
The promise of a vaccine offers great hope, although it is no balm for our current emergency. So this extreme level of uncertainty calls us to pay more attention to what we can control, to remember the basics and to maintain a positive outlook on our future.
Be Determined to Create Your New Normal
The pandemic has sent most nonprofit organizations into a tailspin. But their determination, optimism and commitment have ensured their continued existence. Still, creating a new normal without having the basic facts and projections can feel like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. Here is how a couple of nonprofit organizations are approaching this challenge.
Heidi Holly, executive director of Friendship Center, which provides day care for aging adults with dementia and other disabilities, explains: “Like many nonprofits, we had to quickly pivot and develop virtual and other relevant services for our clients during these difficult times.
The key to our success is weathering the storm, rethinking our strategy and being resilient during these tumultuous times. When we reopen our sites, retaining virtual activities, the continuation of innovative programs, in addition to on-site services will be key to our success.”
Alana Walczak, executive director of CALM, said, “The greatest challenge is the tremendous influx of mental health support that we anticipate our community will request in coming months. The increase in abuse and neglect occurring during shelter-in-place, as well as rising stressors due to economic challenges, school closures, illness, grief/loss and growing uncertainty are causing tremendous stressors.
“All of us are experiencing trauma like we have never faced before, and CALM, as an essential mental health agency for Santa Barbara County, is here to meet the growing needs.”
Let’s Stick Together
During this time of isolation, it’s more important than ever to reach out to our colleagues, to partner with one another and to become part of a community of leaders.
For instance, Greg Gorga, executive director of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, explained, “The museum directors (including gardens and the zoo) have been in constant communication with one another since the early days of COVID, via weekly Zoom meetings and emails. This alliance was already in place and has been for as long as I have been with SBMM.
“Together, we have helped one another learn how to process PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan requests, develop reopening protocols, answered questions about state and county guidelines, and petitioned as one group to reopen our doors.”
Get Ready for an Energizing Year
The secret of this process is a cross section of organizational stakeholders reminding themselves of all they have accomplished in the past year, revisiting their beloved mission and clarifying their intentions for the coming year. This simple practice will reinvigorate your team and focus their energy on greater triumphs for the coming year.
Remember to continue donating to and supporting your favorite nonprofit organizations.
These uncertain times are challenging all of us, but nonprofit organizations are particularly impacted. They remain committed to serving our community with their essential services, yet the pandemic has sidelined their usual methods of raising vital revenue. Longtime fundraising events have been canceled, replaced by valiant virtual events bringing in a fraction of the need and a dearth of opportunities for donor development.
Lindsey Leonard, executive director of the California Central Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, speaks for all nonprofit organizations when she says, “Until there is a cure for this devastating disease, we are asking those that feel touched by our mission to join us in support of this important work.”
So, let’s all work together to intentionally support our favorite charities with larger donations than ever.
— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.